BY MARCUS MITCHELL
Ask any returning UT baseball player about March 1, 2015 and wait for the grin to crawl across their face. With the sun setting on Bright House Field in Clearwater, and the major league Philadelphia Phillies as their opponents, the Spartans landed in the history books with just one swing of the bat. With the two outs and the bases loaded, senior Spartan Giovanny Alfonzo hit a grand slam to far left, giving the Spartans a 6-2 lead to eventually win the game. They became only the third college team ever to defeat an MLB team and reached national headlines after the victory.
But that’s all old news. Now, the Phillies want a rematch and the Spartans have happily agreed to take them on this Sunday, Feb. 28. However, this time around they’ll have to do it without Alfonzo and the other seniors who graduated last year. Instead, they’ll be leaning heavily on players like senior pitcher Kevin Martin, who earned the save against the Phillies last year.
“I had a strikeout, a walk and then I ended up getting the last batter to ground out to me to end the game,” Martin said. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but now we get to do it again.”
If Martin can have a pitching performance this Sunday similar to his six strikeout outing against Bentley earlier this season, the Spartans should be able to hold off the potent major league Philly offense. Joining Martin in the Spartan rotation is senior Michael Calkins, who pitched two scoreless innings against the Phillies in last year’s win. With the experience of last time fresh in his mind, Calkins is ready to face off against major league batters once more.
“The fun thing about baseball is anything can happen in a given day,” Calkins said. “It’s a lot of fun to tour their facility and talk to some of their players, but, when it comes to the game itself, it feels just like any other game. You play hard and you play to win.”
While the opponent may be the Philadelphia Phillies, the Spartans aren’t letting the bright lights of the big stage blind them. In a season where the pressure is cranked up to 11 and every game is a dogfight, it’s nice to get a fun exhibition game to calm some nerves. Suffering their first loss of the season this past weekend, the Spartans are much more focused on their series this weekend against conference opponent Barry University than the Sunday exhibition.
“In reality, Barry is more important and we need those three conference wins,” senior centerfielder Casey Scoggins said. “The Phillies is a great game, but they don’t help us in the long run. Our mentality is to win and come out as national champions.”
Last year’s National Defensive Player of the Year, Scoggins is a lynchpin in the team’s efforts to limit opposing runs from being scored and is the leadoff hitter for the Spartans’ explosive lineup. Batting second is shortstop Kevin Santa who has been on a tear this season with nine RBIs and a homerun. And bringing the big bat in the third spot is Canadian catcher J.D. Osborne who has hit three homeruns this season. Rounding out the batting order is a pair of junior transfers, first baseman Adrian Chacon and second baseman Laz Rivera, who share a total of 17 RBIs.
In an exhibition game that won’t have an effect on their 8-1 record, don’t be surprised if the Spartans come out swinging against the Phillies. With nothing to lose and fans to wow, the game is sure to feature a lot more fun than what is typically seen in a UT conference game.
That being said, the Spartans aren’t treating this game like a field trip. This is a big opportunity for players to get exposure from scouts and to experience what it’s like to play against a team that is literally “out of their league”. This game will be especially important for the Spartans who didn’t play last year like transfer and junior pitcher Nick Nolan.
“It’s a privilege to play on the same field as them,” Nolan said. “I think we have some future big leaguers on our team so our young guns matching up with them at Bright House will be awesome. If we stick to our game, I think we can hang with them.”
Students can get tickets to the game through Tampa Spartans or the Phillies website. Tickets in the lawn section are $8 and a seat behind home plate is $15. Using the code SPARTANS will give UT athletics credit for the sale and a turnout larger than last year’s 5000 is expected for this Sunday’s 1:05 a.m. matchup.